Unpacking a Successful Facebook Ads Campaign – Jason Hunt

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Not getting the results you want from your most recent Facebook Ads campaign? Was it the creative? The targeting? The bid?

In this week’s episode we unpack a wildly successful Facebook Ad to better understand what works and what doesn’t. Jason Hunt, of Merged Media, was gracious enough to share some details of a marketing campaign he recently did for a small local company that was a roaring success and the lessons he learned.

Rich: My next guest is the CMO of Merged Media, a digital marketing agency that helps small to medium sized businesses harness the full potential of digital advertising. Starting in 2007 he got his feet wet with Facebook marketing by using the platform to help his Japanese rock band gain fandom in Japan.

Fast forward to 2020 and he now runs a team of digital marketing team of rock stars out of Toronto, Canada. He has shared his expertise about branding and social media marketing at conferences throughout the globe and fills the void of performing on stage with his band by speaking on stage about his area of expertise.

Today he’s here to talk about a successful Facebook campaign he ran and breakdown the takeaways. Looking forward to learning more from Jason Hunt. Jason, welcome to the show. 

Jason: Thanks Rich, happy to be here.

Rich: So when we did our pre-interview chat there was no discussion about a Japanese rock band. So please break that down for me first.

Jason: Absolutely. So after I finished university back in 2004, I wasn’t ready to quite settle down yet so I found an opportunity to go teach English in Japan. And when over there I planned on staying for 1 year, and 1 year turned into 4 because I met a few students that were pretty good musicians and ended up forming a rock band. Kind of like old school Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine type of vibe.

And what was cool about it was that we were able to manufacture a tour of Japan. And to be completely honest, we were kind of a mediocre band, we weren’t really that great, but had a lot of energy on stage. And I do give a lot of credit to back in the day of MySpace and the Facebooks to helping our band manufacture that tour of Japan back then, which was super cool.

Rich: Very cool. And what did you play?

Jason: I was the front man.

Rich: Alright, excellent. And did you sing in Japanese or did you sing in English?

Jason: You know what, I did a bit of both. What was interesting back then was in Japan it’s very interesting trying to find bands that create original music. Because most musicians over there actually do cover music. So for Japanese for the most part, it was very tough to wear your heart on your sleeve and make music over there. But when we created original music and went up on stage, it was a comfort zone for us, and we developed a pretty good following pretty quickly.

Rich: Very cool. So obviously that was an exciting time in your life, but now you’ve moved on to Merged Media. So tell me a little bit about how you guys came to be and what you do.

Jason: Sure. So Merged Media started actually just last year, I had to go backwards a little bit. A social media agency that I started back in early 2016, and from there I basically was hitting the ground running going door to door getting a lot of walk-in business, a lot of local restaurants and things like that.

Back in 2016 when we would reach out to these small businesses, it was really kind of cutting edge at the time, surprisingly. A lot of people were spending their money on print advertising and things like that, but we’re not really leveraging the opportunities online out there on organic Facebook.

So entering the game at a petty early stage helped us amount to 100 clients in our first year in business.

Rich: Wow, alright. So as I teased in the intro, you had this very successful Facebook campaign and you wanted to share that with me. So can you kind of talk a little bit about what the campaign was, who it’s for, and what were the objectives?

Jason: Sure. So originally we were working with an equestrian online store. And this equestrian store was doing SEO with my company. A little background info, so that digital agency that I started at actually merged with a local SEO company to form Merged Media. It was important to do that because it allowed us an opportunity for us to be more versatile. Because truth be told, we were actually losing clients because of our lack of versatility. People did not want to deal with 5 different people to manage their digital assets, they’d rather just have that one person to kind of manage all of them for them. So that really kind of pushed me into starting this company with a local SEO company.

So that SEO company was working with this equestrian store for the last couple of years so we were able to manufacture a good amount of organic traffic to the site, which really just set the map for our ability to go in there and run a really successful Facebook ad campaign. 

Rich: Ok great. So were there specific objectives that you laid out for that campaign? Was it about branding, was it about awareness, was it about sales?

Jason: So for us it was really about generating sales. We were fortunate enough to start the campaign in December, which is obviously a great time for e-commerce, and also an expensive time so it was a little worrisome as well starting a campaign in December because of the process.

 But the beauty thing about it was it was a very niche product and a very niche audience that we’re after that we want to target with this product. So it’s interesting, if you have a generic type of business, whether it be insurance or lawyer, or restaurant, there needs to be a certain element of brand awareness that goes into a campaign prior to just going for that kind of quick sale.

But in this case because we were working with an equestrian, the audience is already familiar with the brand naturally because it’s niche. If you’re in the equestrian business there’s a good chance you know all the businesses that are in it. So really by leveraging that last year of SEO organic traffic and putting out a very targeted ad, and what was also important was the imaging in the ad as well. The ad actually had a horse with a blanket on it and it was a snowy situation, which was relevant to the time, we had just got dumped on by a bunch of snow up here in the Toronto area. So that ad in itself would have resonated very closely with the local audience that we were targeting.

Rich: And so talk to me a little bit about how you target that audience. It obviously was more than just targeting people in the Toronto area. So what were some of the techniques or tactics that you use, and what were some of your takeaways from that targeting experience?

Jason: Absolutely. So in terms of “cold targeting” it was niche, so it was as cold as it could be. We would use some interest based targeting, but obviously a lot of market research has to go into it. I’m not a horse person so we had to do a good deep dive into the market, into the competitors, looking at the transparency on all the competition to see what was working for them, and grabbing that insight and creating our own ads.

So things like equestrian, dressage, which are terms I had no idea what they were before I did market research. But getting some of those niche terms that related to that industry were super important

But also aside from that we had lookalike audiences from people that had hit that pixel in the last year, which is super important as well. And from there those audiences are able to breed a good amount of sales.

So we have Boxing Day here and it was Boxing Day sales, and that’s a big time for sales and trying to move inventory. But we also had a 2 week prior to Christmas sale, which was super important, a 3 day sale. And we only spent $300 during these 3 days – $100 a day – but just that initial campaign generated us $20,000 in sales for the client.

So the client was calling us up and asking what we have done because they’re running out of inventory, they had to go out and supply new boxes to ship products. That situation is a really good problem to have for a client, and I love hearing that stuff.

Rich: Yeah, absolutely. So you mentioned a little bit before about the creatives, and I wanted to kind of get a sense of is that something that you came up with, is it something the client came up with? Did you do some split testing on the imagery and the headlines? How did that all work out?

Jason: Yeah, interesting. So that’s one of the things anytime we onboard a client, obviously if they have those creative assets it helps. But we’re going to go out there and see what’s working, give some creative insight to the client that hopefully they can provide some sort of creative that can give us sort of that fuel for the campaign.

And in this case here, we had a few different images that we were using. We limited that text. A lot of clients send us these flyers with information on it and we explain that’s not going to work with Facebook. So just having a clear image of a horse that’s going to be a scroll stopping image that’s going to get people to stop and consume the information and take that fast action we want them to take. So that was super important.

But we tested a couple and it only takes Facebook through that learning phase to really pick that winner, in our case, of the three ads we had been running. And then from there just doubling down on what works.

During that Boxing Day campaign we had some good insight in what worked in the 3 day campaign, so we just basically doubled down. Doubled down on the ad that was working, as well as the audience, and tweaked that copy a bit to make it relevant to Boxing Day.

Rich: Now if I understand correctly, when you’re setting up ads and you’re doing split testing, you can let Facebook decide who the “winner” is if you’re doing A/B split testing. But you can also say that you’re going to do it yourself. Which route did you choose, and why?

Jason: We typically always do it ourselves. We do that split testing because it really gives us control over the creative that we choose to use. Certain creatives, we want to get that insight into which one works best with an audience. I personally like having that control over it.

I’m not to the point where I’m running all my campaigns on the ad set level, the budget on the ad set level. We do deploy CBO quite a bit, but having this kind of element of control when testing it. It gives us some good insight and allows us the opportunity to get some good, creative feedback from the client.

Rich: And I’m sorry, CBO, what is that?

Jason: Campaign budget optimization. So when you run a campaign and you have the ability to set your budget on the campaign level, which basically gives Facebook the control as to where to place that ad into what audience. Contrary to running a budget on an ad set level, where you have the control over how much budget is allocated towards a specific audience.

Rich: I see. It’s almost like standard versus automatic when it comes to a car.

Jason: Exactly. And to be honest, it’s surprising. We work with a plethora of products and you’re going to get good results if you have open targeting in a lot of cases. Giving Facebook the power and the ability to choose who your ad gets to. A lot of people like to put all these interest-based targeting options when they’re creating that ad, when in actuality you just want to try to have it as open as possible.

Because Facebook knows more about your clients than you do. Facebook knows the movies they watch, the books they read, and where they’re hanging out, if they have a tendency to click through content and purchase something. So Facebook is going to move pretty quickly on the audience that you’re after.

Rich: So how often are you monitoring the results? Are you basically set it and forget it, are you checking constantly? How does that work both in this campaign and in general for you?

Jason: Inevitably everything is going to saturate. Everything is going to saturate at some point. So we’re going in there, and obviously it depends on the campaign and the budget that we’re talking about here. But Facebook goes through a learning phase and you need that learning phase to finish before you can really judge the campaign and make tweaks to optimize.

A lot of people might want to optimize for conversions. That’s sometimes, depending on the budget, if you have a low budget there’s no point in doing that. Because Facebook is going to be forever in a learning phase if they don’t get to those 50 conversions to know what audience to get your ads in front of.

So we really are looking at things on basically a weekly basis for a lot of our clients, checking under the hood, depending on the budget. We work with a lot of small businesses with a smaller budget, so we don’t need to be touching and tweaking so often. Anytime you see an ad campaign that’s performing really well, you don’t want to touch it. You want to duplicate it. And if you want to test a different ad set or creative, you’ve got to duplicate what’s working and create another one. Don’t touch the knobs on what’s working. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Right?

Rich: Right. So you mentioned something about optimizing for conversions. So conversions are obviously not the only thing people might optimize for. They might optimize for clicks, they might optimize for awareness or engagement. Is it that it depends what you should be going after or is there something specific that you always go after via conversions or clicks?

Jason: So typically I preach guiding the customer along their journey. I would never suggest going out and trying to sell to a cold audience. Things are just too noisy on the social media landscape now. People’s attention is at a minimum, so really you want to engage them with the value. People hear this all the time, but it’s so true. You really need to position yourself in a position of trust.

Whether it be, I just had a meeting with a travel agent this morning, and the big opportunity is connecting with that audience, putting the camera on yourself with your smartphone. You don’t need an overproduced piece of content as a commercial to put out there. Just put the camera on yourself, introduce yourself on what’s your passion and what drives you to do business. And then collect people that are watching 50% of that video who are now familiar with your face. They don’t know what you have to offer yet, but they’re familiar with your face.

And then in that consideration phase campaign, putting something as simple as something to offer or some sort of a tip to get them to click through to your website. You don’t optimize for clicks, you optimize for landing page views. You want to optimize for people that have a tendency to click on content and have the patience to wait for that landing page to load. Because once they hit that landing page and that Facebook pixel fires, now you can retarget them with that sale ad. Retarget them with the more aggressive sell, whatever it is that you have to offer. Ideally at that phase you want to hit them with a testimonial. So that’s typically the standard campaign that we would run for a small business.

Rich: So, that brings up a lot of questions. And I want to come back to the “and the next step is the testimonial” part, but you did mention videos. So I’m kind of curious, what is your ad mix for videos versus photos, have you found one to be more effective, or does it really depend what your goals are for that part of the funnel?

Jason: Interesting. That’s a good question. If we’re optimizing for engagement, for example, and you want to get likes, clicks and shares, the best thing to do in that case is to put up an image ad.

We have an image ad running for ourselves and it’s been running forever at $2/day, and it’s a simple motivational quote. It’s a picture of a few of us in the office, and people are liking, sharing and commenting on this image every single day. And all that’s doing is those people are going into a custom audience that we’re retargeting later on. So in that case when you’re optimizing for engagement, images are the way to go.

Now if you optimize for engagement and you put a video as a creative, well you’re going to get a lot of video views. Which is a good thing, too, but you’re not going to get those likes, clicks and shares that you might want to be looking for. So it really depends. If you’re going to run a video ad, optimize for people that are going to watch videos. So optimize for video views. If you’re using an image, optimize for engagement.

Rich: Interesting. Alright. Now you had mentioned before that at a certain phase you might want to move into testimonials. So it sounds like you got a specific process that goes on in terms of how to go from a cold audience that you’re targeting, just because they match up with the demographics you want, down to where you’re going to build awareness and go for the sales.

So can you walk me through that? And can you give me some examples along the way? Like you mentioned, “That’s when I would bring in a testimonial”. So if you could give me a typical – and it could be the equestrian campaign you ran, or maybe something similar – but what’s your process for this?

Jason: Sure, so initially there are so many different routes you can go in. Like Firehouse Subs is a client of ours and we’ve worked with them for a while. In their case a lot of people, especially in Canada – Firehouse just came out this way sort of recently – so we want to bring a lot of awareness to that brand.

So what we’re doing initially is “have you tried these types of subs yet”, but basically putting an image of a great sub in front of their faces. But getting people into video. So you want people to watch at least 3 seconds of that.

And then from there we actually created a March Madness campaign last year where we had 8 subs and they were going head to head. It was like a sub bracket. And what we were optimizing for that image was, we were optimizing for engagement. We wanted people to basically comment which sub they liked better. And we would just get a plethora of comments.

Now what happened was every time somebody left a comment, it opened up Facebook Messenger. And what that did was allow us an opportunity to take them into this private exclusive channel where we can build up the subscriber list. Now once they’re on Messenger, we ask them a question. Like for example, confirm your favorite sub.

Now immediately when they respond with a Messenger, they’re a subscriber. And now from there we can send them exclusive offers, discounts, all that type of stuff. And from there now they’re in this retargeting audience of consistently warm ads, organic content, but they’re in our ecosystem, which is super important.

And I forgot to mention that earlier. The opportunity that lies in Messenger. Like Rich, we could talk for another half hour on this, but I think that might be for another day. But really getting people on this exclusive list is such an opportunity because truth be told, if you put an offer just into a boosted post you’re probably not going to see good results. But if you get them over to an exclusive list where they know it’s private and you give them an offer there, people are going to come and it’s going to go over like hotcakes.

Rich: So there’s something that you said that kind of piqued my interest. And it was the idea of after I choose the sub I like it brings me into Messenger. I don’t think I’ve ever had that experience on Facebook. So can you walk me through what that looks like, both for the user and how you set that up?

Jason: Sure. And this works great if you’re running any sort of contest, it’s super important, you’ve got to get them to comment. So I’ll give you another example. We ran a campaign for a local pub who was giving away tickets to a Rod Stewart concert. So in the image we just had a picture of Rod Stewart rocking out, and it was “tag the biggest Rod Stewart fan you know in the comments below”.  And from there we were targeting people who live within 5km from the location, which was important, obviously. And then from there we got over 200 people tagging their friends in this Rod Stewart post.

We set it up through a platform called ManyChat, you might want to write that one down if you’re not familiar with it. ManyChat is a platform we use to create these Messenger bots. And then from there as soon as they comment we set it up so that when somebody comments on that image it opens up Facebook Messenger.

And from there we would ask them a simple question within that chatbot. And that question could be, “What’s your favorite Rod Stewart track?” And people will respond to it and from there now they’re in our ecosystem. Now we can promote special offers.

So in this specific case here, what we did was when we announced the winner of the content, we wrote it to everybody with a Messenger that said, “Sorry you did not win the contest, but come on in for a free app, here’s your coupon.” It was crazy. Everybody came in for this free app when we did it in this sequence. They made the effort to enter the contest, and now that they didn’t win they’re still getting a consolation prize for entering the contest.

That methodology for bringing in customers to the restaurant they were over the moon about. It worked really well. 

Rich: That’s actually fantastic. It’s interesting, I’ve never had that experience as a user on Facebook. So a very clever way of pulling people into Messenger for sure.

The equestrian thing was obviously e-commerce at play. What recommendations do you have for people advertising on Facebook as far as landing pages go? How do you increase your conversions on landing pages when people are coming from Facebook?

Jason: Yeah, that’s super important. And the one mistake people make is they optimize for clicks and you always want to optimize for landing page views. Because you want to get your ads in front of people before they have that tendency to hit the landing page. 

Now that landing page experience obviously wants to be a good one, because Facebook is looking at that experience after they leave Facebook. And if they see people bouncing or they clicked over there because it was a clickbait type of ad, Facebook is going to “penalize” you for that and show your ad to less and less people.

So really you want to make that experience for the user as close as possible to what they want to see when they click that ad. What’s that experience? What are they expecting to see when they go through there? Because you have got to remember the attention span of somebody on Facebook is super crazy short. They want to move on to that next piece of content, they want to move on to the picture of their niece or nephew, they’re just not there.

So as long as that landing page gives a pretty clear call to action, the contact submission form is above the fold, and that type of stuff. If you’re just sending traffic straight over to your website and not really navigating your user on where they need to go to get whatever it is they clicked on to get that ad, then it’s going to be a poor user experience and it’s going to be reflected on your ads.

Rich: Alright. I think we’ve danced around this a little bit, but I know that you’ve got kind of a Facebook ad metaphor that has something to do with popcorn. So why don’t you share that with us right now.

Jason: Awesome. So it’s called The Popcorn Attribution Model. And we roll this out in our business on a daily basis. And the reason why we kind of gave this name to it is, it’s kind of a fun name, but it really came from us doing a local trade show. We had this big massive 30 foot booth and we were just trying to think how can we stand out from all these other booths that are at the show. What do we need to do? And somebody came up with the idea to get a popcorn maker.

So we brought the popcorn maker in and basically people would come up to our booth, we had a red carpet, we gave them that rock star entrepreneur experience. So they’d come through on this red carpet, give them the popcorn, and then go over and get a photo taken, and then we’d give them a digital marketing audit.

This whole journey for those attendees at the trade show is very similar to the way that we kind of direct people through Facebook advertising. So the first thing we do is the awareness, smelling that popcorn. You’re not going to go over to someone and feed popcorn down their throat, they need to smell it first. And that’s similar to the ads we’re presenting to people in that awareness stage. It’s just awareness.

And the engagement, get them to engage in the content. Get them to taste the popcorn, and then naturally they’re going to eat the popcorn. Where in The Popcorn Attribution Model, that is someone becoming a lead, someone tasting it. It’s a natural course for that user to take is to become a lead at that part of the journey.

And yeah, that’s The Popcorn Attribution Model, and that’s a great way to put it when you’re creating campaigns. The awareness is consideration and conversion. It’s a good way to think about it, especially when you’re creating the copy and the messaging and the creative for that ad.

Rich: Makes sense. So Jason I don’t want to put you on the spot, but there’s been a lot of news recently around Facebook’s privacy changes and off Facebook setting, giving people more control over how companies use your data on Facebook, clearly retargeting stuff. Do you think this is going to have an impact on how you’re running Facebook ad campaigns in the future? And if so, how?

Jason: When that first came out I was surprised because we had a lot of clients reaching out wondering what’s going to happen, is this going to stop marketers from doing what they do. No. Truth be told, Facebook continues to rise month after month in terms of active users. That’s continuously on the rise so more attention is continuously going to the platform. And if anything, that Cambridge Analytic privacy stuff, all it did was shine a spotlight on how powerful a platform Facebook is in getting in front of that target audience. So that actually drove more marketers to the platform as well.

In terms of how things are going to change in the future, if anything Facebook is going to get a little trickier in terms of interest-based targeting, but so long as we continue to leverage those lookalikes and using the retargeting. Because all the power in Facebook in our data is in the retargeting. It’s qualifying that user. You’re creating a quality customer. It’s not about the quantity, it’s about the quality now. And I don’t foresee it having a big impact at all on our business or Facebook marketers.

Rich: Alright, good advice. Jason, this has been fantastic. If people want to learn a little bit more about you and your agency and how you work, where can we send them online?

Jason: Awesome, appreciate that. Firstly you can find my Instagram it’s @JayHuntOfficial, that’s my personal one. I post IGTV on there, I have a weekly show called The Digital Hunter, where we have our videographer kind of follow around, I go to conferences, have meetings with clients, and all that type of stuff, and I put it on IGTV there.

Also merged.ca is my company. We service international businesses in helping them leverage the digital channels, SEO, social, all that type of jazz. And then @mergedmedia on Instagram as well.

Rich: Awesome. And we’ll have links to all those in the shoe notes. So if you missed any of that, be sure to check out the shoe notes, it’s just a click away. Jason, this has been great. Thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Jason: Thanks for having me, Rich, it’s been a pleasure. 

Show Notes:

Jason Hunt finds passion in creating successful digital ad campaigns for his clients. Check out his IGTV videos and reach out to him on his personal IG account. To find out more about his company, Merged Media, check out their website.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing